Not to be confused with a similarly named US Band and their Yes tribute Awaken, this veteran Swedish trio opt for a more accessible sound, most definitely in the Neo-Prog vein, with tinges of AOR. Lead vocalist and bass player Ulrik Arturen, Keyboard man Forbjorn Carlsson and Anders Borjesson on guitars are helped by a slew of guest musicians to flesh out the sound. The concept theme is about the scourge of war, as recent times have shown a propensity for humanity to engage in the oldest stupidity, you can literally select your area of conflict, though this is dedicated to the Ukrainian struggle. The dozen songs run the gamut from ‘cassus belli’, assault, artillery barrages, snipers, tanks to the resulting conflagrations, torn limbs, desperate civilians fleeing for their lives. One has to only read the song titles and clearly get the message of women and children becoming refugees and citizens morphing into soldiers.

The following tracks deserve a more than cursory analysis: “The Escape” is a helter-skelter run from crater to crater, innocence daring to defy missiles, buzzing drones, helicopter gunships and all the other gruesome monsters of war, the churlish guitar burying deep wounds, the synths sizzling hot like phosphorous, and a bang-bang vocal to illustrate the fear.  The rhythm section pounds mercilessly. It is a very expressive track that slams hard, the lyrics drenched in utter poignancy.

The bluesy “You’ve Got to Run” is an ardently charged vocal duet between Ulrik and Maria Kirilov, aided by piano and guitar leading the way to potential freedom. The string orchestration adds the appropriate amount of texture and sobriety. As usual since the dawn of time, the words ‘run and hide’ maintain their storied but sad association. There is a noticeable Clapton-esque feel to it all, including the bluish guitar solo from Anders. Very good track.

There is a lot of intricate cleverness on the pulsating, and excellent “Fields of Despair”, a powerful piece that alternates between hard rhythmic gymnastics, blending buzzing guitars, whistling synths and incredible plucked string orchestrations on one hand and pastoral interventions led by that magic flute as Mozart once called it, throwing in a delicious harpsichord patch to die for (oops!) on the other. ‘Time lost in nowhere land’ is ushered in with female choir vocals, raising the passionate level to celestial heights, with a melancholy piano to push home the message.

The fog of war makes one wonder “How Can this Even Be?”, and reignites the male/female vocal duet, stamped by a furious electric guitar rant, balanced a return flight from the flute, fluttering between rage and despondence.

At nearly 9 minutes, “Not Alone Part “(Part 2 will close the curtain on this exodus), an exploration of courage and grim determination in the face of unhinged brutality, more often than not by people who were once perhaps your neighbours. Solitude replacing death being the worst of all fears. Midway through, the resonating piano takes in the beam of the searchlight, aiding and abetting the voice first and foremost, waiting for the entire band to enter the fray, describing with sounds and words, the absolute cruelty of hostilities. The choir work is spot on, urging the ‘people to stand up’!  Brilliant piece of music.

There is unrepentant rage expressed on the thudding “Forgotten”, screeching into the sombre shadows of “Darkness”, a stunning cry for salvation and then, ultimately drowning with murky fatality in the sorrowful “Sea of Death”. It is not a pretty picture. In fact, its damn depressing but it’s a daily reality.

The second longest number “Say Hello (Solid Ground)” is another winner, ‘a minefield walk’ searching for a way out beyond the cratered front line and find the much sought after deliverance, ‘a kid with no shoes, stuck in no-man’s land’. The vocals are as determined as can be, the deep-rooted essence of those who fight for survival for their family and those warriors who refuse to bend a knee to any oppressor, defending their torched homes. The musical arrangement stays within the established crosshairs, determined and valiant.

“Not Alone Part2” reignites the rallying cry, ‘hope in a new world’ and as such a fitting reminder that this as well as many other wars don’t always end quickly or with any kind of sense of victory. Which is why peace is imperative and imposing a ceasefire a first stop to stop the bloodshed. Sadly, for this reviewer, who happens to also be a long-time amateur historian, I am recalling the ominous words of von Clausewitz: “War is merely the continuation of policy by other means”.

4.5 Inept and corrupt politicians